OKLAHOMA CITY – The governor this week signed into law a bill that will allow for a victim-led restorative justice pilot program to be established in the state.
The purpose of House Bill 1880, by House Majority Caucus Whip Tammy West, R-Oklahoma City, is to divert non-violent offenders from traditional prosecution and incarcerations models. Instead, cases are referred to the program and trained citizen-led mediation panels help determine punishment and restoration. The goal is rehabilitation of the offender through reconciliation with the victims and the community at large.
“I’ve looked at models from across the country where these programs have worked wonderfully,” West said. “Victims of crime feel restored, members of the community feel satisfied. Perpetrators of crimes know the weight of their actions and make restitution without having to serve lengthy jail or prison sentences. This is true criminal justice reform.”
Sen. Darcy Jech, R-Kingfisher, is the Senate author of the bill.
“Restorative justice programs are a great option for non-violent offenders to get the treatment and help they need without putting further strain on our criminal justice system. I’m pleased that both the Senate and House provided overwhelming support for this measure that authorizes district attorneys across the state to create these programs for qualified offenders.”
West held an interim study last year to examine restorative justice models. She brought in several experts from across the country where such programs have seen wide success. She said she liked the model because it was victim driven but also helped offenders be restored to their communities. Under the program, an offender’s plan could range from an apology, to repayment or replacement of a stolen item, or other recommendations aimed at repairing harm to the victim and giving the offender a chance to make things right.
West said there will not be a request for state appropriations to fund the program. Instead, the District Attorneys Council (DAC), which is authorized under the new law to develop and administer the five-year pilot program, has agreed to look for grant funding. The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Administrative Office of the Courts Alternative Dispute Resolution Program also have agreed to provide support.
Under HB 1880, the DAC will use a deferred-prosecution agreement method, utilizing evidence-based practices and techniques to create the community-based restorative justice program. The law takes effect Nov. 1, 2021.